Dubai: The budding digital media production industry in the Middle East is taking another important step towards creating its own internet, film and gaming content.
What's being billed as one of the first multi-platform adventure-action video games to be created exclusively within the Middle East is under full production and nearing completion, says a Saudi Arabian games developer exhibiting at Dubai Game Expo 2011.
The expo opened yesterday and runs until tomorrow with the latter two days showcasing 144 gaming companies at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre.
The new homegrown video game, Unearthed: Trail of Ibn Battuta, is the brainchild of Semaphore, the gaming and multimedia division of Semanoor International, an established Saudi Arabian e-learning firm for the last 20 years.
In an interview with Gulf News from Riyadh, Ahmad Jadallah, director of development at Semanoor International, said the game will give young gamers the opportunity to follow classical Arab explorer Ibn Battuta's journey in a modern-day setting.
"This will allow you to retrace Ibn Battuta's steps in a modern game," Jadallah said from his firm's headquarters, noting that the game will also "have an Indiana Jones vibe".
History records, through Ibn Battuta's book Rihla (The Journey), the 14th century Berber Moroccan explorer's travels as far east as China and as far west as Europe, 121,000 kilometres that spanned 30 years.
The treasure-hunting game, similar to Tomb Raider, is story-driven and unlike other games where the object is to amass points, cash or items, this game is all about experiencing the mystery of Ibn Battuta's quest to explore the world.
"It's a huge responsibility to portray Arab culture. We will do our best to bring something everyone will be very proud of in the Middle East," Jadallah said.
Learning on the journey
While the game is certainly not educational software, gamers will learn much about Arab culture through their virtual travels in the hunt for clues.
"Along the way, they will learn facts that standard school books will never be able to convey," Jadallah said.
While the game is presented to gamers in a three-dimensional world, it is not a first-person shooter, he said.
Rather, the main character Faris Jawad and his older sister Dania are depicted as small figures on the screen.
At the beginning of the game, Faris and Dania find themselves outside the pyramids in Egypt and embark on a journey to solve puzzles history has buried.
Faris, which means ‘knight' in Arabic, is a young Arab who embarks on his own journey along with his sister who provides "historical and archaeological background" to the unfolding story of the game, Jadallah said.
"We're trying to bring a Middle East flavour to our characters as needed," he said.
Jadallah declined to give a release date but said the "game is still in development.
"We're trying to coordinate a launch date for all platforms at once. We are close to finishing the game".
Gaming platforms will include mobile to home computer on PC and Mac to Android, iPhone, IPad, and Playstation.
Jadallah said game developers are also working on a Facebook version of the game which will allow users to play in a multiplayer environment.
Gaming by numbers
• More than $10 billion market value across all console and online game segments
• 50 per cent of the region's population is under 25 years old
• More than 150 million consoles sold in the region (excluding grey market)
• 63 million internet users (2010)
• 1,825 per cent internet usage growth (2000-2007)
• 27.7 million Facebook users in Arab world
— Source: Index Conferences and Exhibitions